CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State learned its lesson two seasons ago.
That’s when Sacramento State came to Reser Stadium for the opener and shocked the Beavers with a 29-28 overtime victory. With that inauspicious start, Oregon State finished 3-9 and out of the playoffs.
The Beavers rebounded dramatically last season, going 9-4 and earning an Alamo Bowl appearance against Texas. It was the biggest turnaround in school history.
“You can’t take anything for granted, and we’re playing Eastern Washington, a team that has been very good on a national level. I think it’s about how your team approaches every game,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
Oregon State is ranked at No. 25 going into this season.
Eastern Washington is certainly better positioned for the upset than Sacramento State was two years ago. The Eagles are ranked No. 4 in the preseason FCS poll and third nationally in the coaches’ poll. The Eagles finished 11-3 overall last season and were the Big Sky Conference co-champions. They played in the FCS playoffs, losing to Sam Houston, 45-42, in the semifinals.
This is the third straight season the Eagles have faced a Pac-12 opponent. They lost to Washington State last season and Washington in 2011. Eastern Washington hasn’t defeated a Pac-12 team in nine tries.
“For us to go to a Pac-12 stadium is an opportunity. I love the idea of a challenging schedule. Even though we have come up short the past two years, I would not trade getting the chances to compete against WSU or the University of Washington,” Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said.
After a drawn-out fall camp competition, Riley named Sean Mannion his starter. Mannion and senior Cody Vaz went back and forth last season. Mannion threw for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns in 10 games. Vaz threw for 1,480 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games. Riley said the Beavers are lucky to have two capable quarterbacks, but there was no intention of using a rotation this season. “Sean’s the starter and we’ll go into the game like that,” he said.
Quarterback Vernon Adams started nine games last season for the Eagles and won FCS Freshman of the Year honors. He threw for 1,961 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. “He has stepped up as a leader. I have watched him inspire people even when the situation doesn’t go great. That is the definition of a leader. He can bring people up, bring people going forward and keep their heads up when things are not going well,” Baldwin said.
Last season Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks made up one of the most dynamic receiving tandems in the Pac-12. Wheaton caught 11 touchdown passes and averaged 95.7 yards receiving a game, while Cooks caught five TDs and averaged 88.5 yards a game. Wheaton moved on to the NFL and now Cooks is a junior ready to take the lead role. Richard Mullaney and Obum Gwacham will also contribute.
Eastern Washington is expected to start redshirt freshman Cooper Kupp at wide receiver. Kupp is something of a football legacy: His grandfather, Jake Kupp, played at Washington and had an 11-year career in the NFL, making the Pro Bowl as a guard for the New Orleans Saints. His dad, Craig Kupp, was a quarterback who was with both the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys in 1991.
Storm Woods and Terron Ward have both vowed to run for 1,000 yards this season. If they both get there, it would be the first time a pair of Oregon State running backs reach the milestone in the same season. Last year, Woods had 192 carries for 940 yards and 13 touchdowns. Ward, whose older brother is Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, finished with 415 yards rushing and six TDs.